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My Year in Reading: The Version with Lists

December 31, 2011 Leave a comment

Because, really, we all love to hate those end-of-year lists that are EVERYWHERE this time of year. I mean, that means we love them too, right?

In 2011, I finished 54 titles. I don’t know how that ranks with the reading rates of most readers, but it feels a bit on the slow side. I’m guessing people who are not habitual readers would find that to be a staggeringly impossible number. Having seen the pace at which my wife can put away a book (She read the entire “A Song of Ice and Fire” saga in less than a month this summer, and that is at her new slower post-baby clip), I figure a good number of folk simply scoff at such a weak number.

What I do know is that I didn’t read nearly enough of 2011’s newly published works to have it make any sense to attempt a “best of” sort of list with aspirations of comprehensiveness. Hence, I’ve broken the 54 books into a few different categories, which were then organized into some fashion to indicate overall value to me in some way or other.

(Relatively) Recent Fiction

Turns out that 20 of the books I read were fictional novels published in either 2010 or 2011. I liked the roundness of 20, so I did a simple order of preference for those.  I’m sure the Franzen and Eugenides books would/should be in there, if only I had read them…

  1. Embassytown by China Mieville
  2. The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach
  3. The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht
  4. Zone One by Colson Whitehead
  5. The Silent Land by Graham Joyce
  6. Low Town by Daniel Polansky
  7. The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt
  8. Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin
  9. The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan
  10. Zoo City by Lauren Beukes
  11. The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman
  12. A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
  13. The Reapers are the Angels by Alden Bell
  14. Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King
  15. How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu
  16. Doc by Mary Doria Russell
  17. Lord of Misrule by Jaimy Gordon
  18. The Tower, The Zoo and The Tortoise by Julia Stuart
  19. Red on Red by Edward Conlon
  20. Damned by Chuck Palahniuk

I’ve no desire to defend my decisions to anyone, really. It’s just about personal preference. Besides, I have to admit, when I was asked earlier what my favorite novel of the year was, I replied with “The Art of Fielding” having forgotten entirely about “Embassytown.” But, really, I’m all about the Mieville. It’s AMAZING!

Yes, I had to ‘shout’ that bit.

And, then in what must seem like a preemptive bout of defensiveness, I should at least point out I do tend to prefer my fiction with fantastical and/or science-fiction elements. Despite knowing that about myself, I was a little surprised to see the Graham Joyce and Daniel Polansky books as high on that list as they are, but then remembered what a blast I had reading them; the same can simply not be said for the last five books on the list, each of which was a challenge to finish for me.

But, I DID finish them, unlike…

Simply could NOT do it!

  1. What We Do is Secret by Thorn Kief Hillsbury
  2. Last Man Through the Gate by Tim C. Taylor
  3. Years of Rice and Salt by Kim Stanley Robinson

One might argue that three books I did not finish shouldn’t be listed among “books I finished.” My counter-point would be that I am finished with them, whether I read them to completion or no.

I do feel a little dirty about having gotten only to the seventh page of the Hillsbury book and counting it, but I knew by then I was going to maybe set either it or myself on fire before I could ever get through it. It had a weird spoken-word vibe to it that simply doesn’t work for me. “Last Man Through the Gate” was a freebie e-book; anyone who has read many of those knows how entirely hit-or-(most likely) miss those can be.

The Kim Stanley Robinson book was a disappointment for me. The premise, wherein the same group of characters are reincarnated throughout an alternate history of world civilization, was a complete hit for me. Unfortunately, I just ran out of steam with it. It’s a long book and, without a strong central narrative, just lost me.

Graphic Novels

  1. Locke & Key, Volume 1: Welcome to Lovecraftby Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez
  2. Locke & Key, Volume 2: Head Games by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez
  3. Locke & Key, Volume 3: Crown of Shadows by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez
  4. The Walking Dead, Volume 1: Days Gone By by Robert Kirkman and Tony Moore
  5. Priest: Genesis, Volumes 1-3 by Min-Woo Hyung

I generally don’t read graphic novels because, truly, the artwork is completely lost on me. I find myself rushing through them to get the story, but I know that, in order to really appreciate them, I should slow it down a bit and observe the work of the illustrator.

But I don’t and won’t.

Despite that, I was completely sucked in by the Locke & Key series and highly recommend it to anyone interested in a good haunted house tale.

The other two I could have done without reading.

Collections

  1. Knockemstiff by Donald Ray Pollock
  2. Granta 117: Horror by John Freman (editor)
  3. Your Wildest Dreams, Within Reason by Mike Sacks

Simply put, Knockemstiff was one of the most-compelling things I’ve ever read. It probably could have been listed among the fiction novels, but it really is a collection of related short stories. Though, now that I think on it, it’s probably less disjointed than Egan’s “Goon Squad,” the format of which leaves me baffled as to how it garnered the crazy amounts of regard it did.

And, it’s definitely more cohesive than King’s “Full Dark, No Stars” which is a collection of novellas.

Oh well. What’s done is done. Pollock is so good, he deserves his own category anyhow.

The Sacks is meant to be funny. I didn’t think it was funny. Is there anything more subjective than comedy? Not sure there is.

Non-Fiction 

  1. WAR by Sebastian Junger
  2. Play Their Hearts Out: A Coach, His Star Recruit, and the Youth Basketball Machine by George Dohrmann
  3. Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual by Michael Pollan
  4. I’m a Stranger Here Myself: Notes on Returning to America After 2o Years Away by Bill Bryson
  5. The Egg & I by Betty MacDonald
  6. Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef by Gabrielle Hamilton
  7. Origins of the Specious: Myths and Misconceptions of the English Language by Patricia T. O’Conner
  8. No Touch Monkey: and Other Travel Lessons Learned Too Late  by Ayun Halliday
  9. The Game From Where I Stand: A Ballplayer’s Inside View by Doug Glanville

Only now that I’ve typed this list am I aware of the consistent practice of spiking the title of non-fiction books with a colon and a clarification of the book’s subject matter, which I do find slightly odd.

At any rate, I’m fairly fond of saying that I don’t read much non-fiction, so I’m a little baffled when I realize non-fiction made up of nearly 17% of my total haul for the year. That percentage is actually higher if I were to flesh it out to account for magazine articles and news and what not, but I’d never have guessed it were even this high for just the books.

And it shouldn’t be, because this list is dominated by books I found sincerely lacking. Really, only the first two would I say were truly compelling. The Pollan book is great, but isn’t really much of a book, as it’s a bunch of short items on (re)defining food in an era where food products has become the norm of the American diet. I love it, but it is what it is.

The other six books I either just didn’t enjoy or actively hated. The Hamilton memoir was really a let-down as it was highly praised, but, to me, it quickly turned into a long lament/complaint piece. If a friend gets a little whiny on Facebook, I’ll hide them from my feed, but this? I got tricked into a few hundred pages of “Oh, it’s all so sad, really.” I actively hated it by the end, which should tell you something about the books I rate below it.

The Glanville book is remarkably boring when you consider the guy played major-league baseball for several years and that I really like baseball. I didn’t hate it, but can’t remember one thing I read in it that I could say was worth the effort. Tremendously boring, which is quite an accomplishment when writing about a subject I quite enjoy.

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Categories: Uncategorized Tags: ,

My Year in Reading

December 30, 2011 2 comments

In some ways, I do wish I were the sort to find a more-unique way to define an interval appropriate for reflection than the calendar year. Yet, when I think on it, not only does it seem needlessly complicated, but reminds me of people who will organize their various media collections in ways other than boring, old alphabetical order.

Ultimately, when I want to hear Radiohead, I know I can go to the “R’s” and find them. I don’t want to try to remember what year “The Bends” was released or what color the spine may have been. I’ll leave that for the more-creative folk with much more ability in the memory department.

The trade off, of course, is that I’ll be just another voice muttering an opinion into a larger conversation featuring a great many voices all talking about the same thing, essentially.

At least it’ll be interesting to me?

2011 was a bit of a boon for me in the reading category thanks to three items: a change of work venue, requiring a commute via public transport; a Christmas gift of a shiny new e-reader; and a rapidly snowballing need to consume all sorts of book-related media.

Ride the Bus; Read a Book

When I first started working for my current employer, they were located in a semi-dodgy part of town. Sure, you had to frequently dodge morning drunks, giant rain-filled potholes, and a considerable number of tractor-trailer trucks between car and desk, but the freedom granted when you have your car a block away, for me, greatly out-weighed such inconveniences. Granted, my low supply of patience does not make me an ideal candidate for driving in Seattle traffic, but I liked being able to drive to work.

Moving downtown did nothing for me as much as taking away my ability to drive to work. Many coworkers relish the opportunity to sneak out of the office for a mid-day shopping trip to Nordstrom, as well as a huge expansion on nearby food options, but, for me, those trade-offs weren’t really getting it done for me.

Sitting on the bus for an hour-plus most days did pay off, though. I am not the sort who can just sit and stare-off into space in such scenarios, passing the time with my own thoughts.

Maybe I don’t find myself that interesting, after all.

I did notice that a good number of my fellow Seattle-ites have chosen to utilize that bus-riding time to do numerous things on their smart phones, which did make it clear to me I wanted to be doing something other than that. Add in the fact that the gorgeous central branch of the Seattle Public Library was a nice little walk from the office, and I was ready to re-embrace a reading habit that had long lain dormant (too many years working the insane hours of restaurant manager).

My Nook…How do I love thee?

The Missus noted my renewed lust for book consumption and, at some point, realized an e-reader was going to be an ideal Christmas gift.

She was right.

Trying to ignore that some number of printed-on-paper-book fetishists will fail to miss the opportunity to assert their superiority for steadfastly refusing to ever consider such a device, I declare my conditional love for my little tech toy. I love that I can borrow books from the library without taking the short walk that was otherwise very good for me; I love that I can buy new releases from the convenience of my desk, when I can be coerced to going above my set ceiling of $9.99; I love that I can read in bed without holding hundreds of pages above my face and that, when I start to fall asleep and drop it, it doesn’t hurt as much and I don’t lose my spot.

Despite all of which, I still spent more time and money at bookstores, particularly re-sellers, than I have in many a year. I mix it up. I’m prejudiced against neither format. Whichever is more convenient to my budget and the whims of my selections of “NEXT!” wins the day.

And, I do honestly think I am able to read faster on the Nook than what I do with a printed book. I’ve no scientific data to back the assertion, nor could I explain why that might be, but I do feel I read faster on that little screen; this is not unappealing to me.

Goodreads, Twitter, Blogs, Book Reviews, et cetera

Now, like any decent obsession, I’ve taken it from its simplest form into some sincerely nerdy directions.

Like many, I’ve become a devotee to the Goodreads site. I have not necessarily dived into it as deep as I could or even may yet do, but I regularly update my reading progress in whatever I’m reading and, since I like to challenge myself, am continually spurred to push that number higher until I’m able to click the magical “I’m finished” text, whereupon I realize I’m not really ready to write a proper review and will half-ass some opinions on it. Okay, that’s not ideal, but I did also join the “Reading Challenge” and set a goal of reading 50 books in 2011. I hit 54 and won’t manage the double-nickel unless I find a really short book I just HAVE to finish in the next 31 hours. Unlikely.

Additionally, my “to read” pile/list, has done the opposite of Jonah Hill: it used to be a lot thinner and, probably healthier, but now has grown into a more humorously girth-y entity. Between having a nice, central place to track such aspirations (again, thanks to Goodreads) and the influx of great suggestions from various social media channels, I simply cannot keep up, so it grows at an unhealthy rate. There are worse problems, but if anyone reads this an knows someone who’s looking to pay someone to sit around the house and read books all day, please forward them to me; we might be able to work together to find a mutually beneficial solution.

2012

What does the next year hold? How large can one’s “to read” list get?

Looks like I’ve already decided I’m going to write about my reading, which won’t give me more time to work on my 2012 goal of 55 books. Maybe I turn off the Twitter a while? Maybe I stop accepting the free copies of The New York Times Book Review, which ends up taking up substantial reading time AND adds to the pile. I’ve already dropped a few magazine subscriptions, though I’ve added a few literary quarterlies.

I guess it’ll have to suffice that I shan’t suffer these burdens alone. I’ll continue to publish these missives into the ether and feel like something is being achieved.

Just, do me a favor. Don’t recommend me any books for a while, eh?

Categories: Uncategorized

A Trip to Pegasus

December 19, 2011 2 comments

I love, love, love used book stores. I mean, they’re wall-to-wall books, generally. Of course I love them.

Also, it seems to me that the people who run them are generally nice. I mean, they probably are pretty into books.

Ultimately, though, it’s the whole lottery factor of shopping at a book re-seller. You walk in, think of a title, and go on a hunt. You may find it; you may not. Sure, you go to the Border of Barnes & Welshans, and you’re going to find things pretty consistently. There’s certainly something to that when you simply want one thing in particular. When you’ve got a wandering curiosity about dozens of titles at any given time, many of which would not be recent publications or even necessarily prominent enough to be guaranteed to be stocked in many bookstores, it’s the used shop that feeds the beast.

The used book shop (well, the one I most-frequently visit, anyhow) in my neighborhood is Pegasus Book Exchange and, if I ever happen to be on foot in the area and they’re open, it’s pretty much a shoe-in that I’ll go in. The problem then is that it’s also pretty much a shoe-in that I’ll buy some books.

This would be less of a problem if I didn’t already have too many books in my ‘to-read’ pile, but I do. And now I’ve even more.

Because, like I said, if I go in, I’m going to buy a book.

Or several…

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Short History of a Prince” by Jane Hamilton

The Missus and I, when we arrived at the Pegasus storefront, took a few minutes to look at the bargain table out front. You can always find something on it worth the $3 they’ll ask for it.

That being said, I know not the first thing about this book. My wife selected it and I bought it for her. She said she likes the author and hadn’t read it. Good enough for me! She also was admiring Patrick Rothfuss’ “The Wise Man’s Fear,” which was on display in the window front, but also happened to have the yellow bookmark in it that said “NEW.” Not opposed to buying new, mind you, but it’s not what we were up to at the time!

It could turn up under the Christmas tree, though. One never knows…

Being what it is, there isn’t really a lot of room in Pegasus for a stroller, even if it were otherwise unoccupied. As it was teeming with shoppers, wife and son went on to the next store on our list of errands, while I went in to get my fill.

I did the requisite poking around in the general fiction shelves, hoping with little hope of scoring a copy of Jesmyn Ward’s “Salvage the Bones,” which holds the title of book I’m most obsessively coveting. Since the publisher is keeping the e-book price at $14, however, I was only ever going to buy a used copy or wait for my turn at Seattle Public Library.

Sidebar: I got an email later in the day that told me my day had arrived for my turn with one of the SPL’s electronic copies of the 2011 National Book Award winner.

And, yeah, I’m that guy who had never heard of the book but, as soon as the award was announced, decided it had to be read ASAP.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fargo Rock City” by Chuck Klosterman

I am not sure why, but my sister bought me his “Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs” for Christmas one year. I didn’t know anything about it, but she was certain I’d like it.

Turns out she was right.

In fact, I’d like to say that Klosterman ranks among my favorite writers today. I mean, I’d like to say that, but can I do so while admitting that I’ve not read any of his other books? I follow him on Twitter, but he doesn’t really light it up on there. He occasionally writes for Grantland, which does keep me in touch with that part of what he does, but if he’s a favorite, I should probably catch up on some of his books, right?

So, along those lines, I spied this on the big table when you first walk into the store. I don’t usually look at the books there and, now that I think about it, don’t even know the significance of the books there. It’s usually a morass of mass-market paperbacks, or so I seem to think. Even if I weren’t already familiar with the book from before, it is certainly the sort of cover that would draw my eye.

Now I have it. When am I going to read it though? It’s on the pile. Along with the Ward book, however, I’ve also been given the nod for “The History of History” by Ida Hattemer-Higgins and the ESPN book by Tom Shales called “Those Guys Have All the Fun: Inside the World of ESPN,” so between those and my current work on Maria Doria Russell’s “Doc,” which is being greatly slowed by holiday shopping and the like, I’d say I’m a bit booked through at least early January.

See? I really have no business hitting the book store.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Story of Sushi” by Trevor Corson

I don’t think I had actually heard of this book prior to purchasing it, but it looked like an interesting item. I do not really invest a lot of time or effort into non-fiction, but the world of food is a soft spot for me, having worked in the restaurant biz for FAR too long, I’ve developed a strong interest in the world of the business of food. It was on the table near the Klosterman book and, while not as fun as the cow with the Gene Simmons eye, it is again a cover that would hook me.

Get it? Hook?

Ahem…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tigana” by Guy Gavriel Kay

There is no way I’ll remember what spurred the conversation, but I do recall that among the fallout of it, was that my wife was a fan of this particular book, which she no longer had in her possession, but would like to again own and read.

Saw this on the shelf, called the Missus’ mobile, and confirmed I was remembering at least that much correctly. She assured me I was. I bought her yet another book!

Am I a great husband or what?!

One of two men working at Pegasus (whose names I should probably go about learning and remembering…and now I seem to recall that the older gentleman is Fred…yeah) said, “that didn’t last long,” which launched into a brief discussion about how it was rare to even see that title come through the store, which is why it doesn’t sit on the shelf for long. Seems like maybe take a look at it when the Missus is done, and I’ve read my lot of library books…assuming the “Tournament of Books” hasn’t put a whole lot of stuff in my “urgent” basket.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beggars in Spain” by Nancy Kress

This was a pure acceptance of a random suggestion by our local librarian celebrity Nancy Pearl. She tweeted about reading and loving it, which drove me to look it up, where I learned it won Hugo and Nebula awards. Good enough for me. Since it was recent enough and event for me to remember it, I sought, found, and added it to the pile.

Luckily, my sense that it was time to catch up with my family was strong enough to say that five books was plenty for today, so I paid and made my way down the street. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go find out just what that Dr. Holliday is up to, now that Wyatt Earp has taken over policing Dodge City.

 

Categories: Uncategorized

A Year Under the Influences (part two): The Esoteric Matters

December 13, 2011 Leave a comment

Ultimately, none of these sources of inspiration are what the greenies would call “sustainable,” but they’re certainly a lot more fun and interesting than “I read about it in the Times.” Of course, the beauty of these inspirations is the spontaneous or temporary nature of their reign. It’s a beautiful thing…until you realize you’re a few hundred pages into a book you really don’t like, making you second-guess the bliss of such spontaneous selections.

Banning Books Sometimes Makes Me WANT to Read Them

  • The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

I could cite a number of reasons I’d have gotten around to this book (maybe…eventually), but the process got microwaved when I read a news story about a school district in Richland, Washington reversing a ban on the book after actually reading it!

I probably shouldn’t be surprised that books in this day and age continue to be banned in response to bored busybodies who think they’re doing everyone a favor, but I am.

I probably shouldn’t be surprised that administrators who make these decisions sometimes (ofttimes?) make them while being wildly under/mis-informed on the matter, but I am.

I probably shouldn’t be surprised that some people in these positions might actually take time to educate themselves and then reverse course, even though doing so might put their prior work in a bit of a bad light, but I am.

So, while it could have been that the book itself won the National Book Award, or that Alexie can be very entertaining on his Twitter feed, or that I like that he’s a bit of a hoops head (even though the Sonics have left town, or that he and I reside in the same city, or even simply that I’ve liked what I’ve read of his in the past, it was a spectacular series of events in a town only a few hours by car from his birthplace that brought the book back into my field of view.

Ever See a Road with a Weird Name While on Vacation, Only to Later See a Book with the Same Name?

  • The Egg and I by Betty MacDonald

Happened to me!

The Missus and I were driving to Port Townsend on a Sunday evening for a little get-away when we saw a road sign for “The Egg and I Road.”

I’m not going to tell you we spent the rest of the journey trying to figure out why they’d given such an odd name to the road, but we also didn’t just dismiss it with a shrug and a “Weird…”

I don’t tend to miss an opportunity to browse a bookstore when on vacation. Port Townsend has a very enjoyable bookstore for such leisurely, vacation-paced perusing.

Achievement unlocked!

Eventually, I stumbled onto the local interest area where the title caught my eye, of course. Couldn’t wait to tell The Missus. Then I read that it was meant to be a humorous look at life on a chicken farm in the area.

Ah…now I get it.

A Sequel

  • The Magician King by Lev Grossman

Despite my affinity for science-fiction and fantasy as genres, I somehow generally have escaped being a reader of series. I did read David Eddings’ Belgariad books all the way through, as well as some of Fred Saberhagen’s Swords series, but that’s about it, unless you count Douglas Adams’ increasingly inaccurately named Hitchhiker trilogy, which I do not.

Combine that with the fact that I wasn’t nearly as impressed with The Magicians as I had wanted to be, and I can’t really believe I read this.

Rest assured (and I know it was going to bother you), I shan’t be continuing if/when there is another to come.

Cool Title/Cover Art

  • No Touch Monkey: And Other Travel Lessons Learned Too Late by Ayun Halliday
  • The Reapers are the Angels by Alden Bell
  • The Hangman’s Daughter by Oliver Pötzsch

Considering I make fun of The Missus when she buys bottles of wine based on the label, I really shouldn’t be admitting that I do this, but…

Come on! If you’d not heard of The Reapers are the Angels prior to now, are  you going to tell me that name doesn’t just kinda grab ya?!

Of course, if you get a mediocre bottle of wine out the deal, you still drank half a bottle of wine, depending on how much faster than your spouse you imbibe. If you get a mediocre travel memoir, you might spend a week slogging through it, while just begging for it to be over, which is considerably less enjoyable than the grape juice that came in a bottle with a female pirate under a shiny, purple moon while stroking a vampiric cat.

I think that covers the things I see on a bottle of wine and then try to hide all the bottles in the store, knowing that if/when The Missus sees them, we’ll be buying one.

And, please, vinters of the world, stop it!

Anthony Bourdain Wouldn’t Completely Hose Me By Blurbing a Crap Book, Would He?

  • Blood, Bones and Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef by Gabrielle Hamilton

Aw, damnit! Yes, he would! You’re damned right he would! Didn’t you read Medium Raw and note that he’d clearly softened up quite a bit since Kitchen Confidential? DIDN’T YOU?!

Okay, I’m sure there’s a better explanation for Bourdain pimping the book than “he’s soft.” In fact, I seem to remember it getting good notices from both NPR and the New York Times Book Review, so maybe the problem is mine.

And that problem seems to stem from not really wanting to read someone’s whining about their life. I mean, someone dumps a four sentence paragraph on Facebook agonizing over something or other and I want to scream. Why would I want a few hundred pages of that from a complete stranger? Because they run a successful restaurant?

And, yes, I realize I’d put this book already in another category, as I did originally hear about it via NPR, but I am a big Bourdain fan; him giving his blessing was a clincher.

Categories: Uncategorized

A Year Under the Influences (part one): A Reading List is Formed

December 12, 2011 Leave a comment

A recent post on Book Riot (by Amanda of Dead White Guys) about “The Influence of Twitter on a Reader” had me thinking about how Twitter, among several other resources for learning about new books and authors, was informing my choices of reading material. Such thinking, as is wont to do in this era of publicly voicing many random thoughts through those same social media avenues, provoked me into tweeting “gonna start tracking reason I chose books I read.”

The well-meaning folk who monitor and maintain the @BookRiot twitter feed took my off-the-cuff oath as truth and immediately asked to be informed as to the results of my “great project.”

So, in the matter of seconds (literally, SECONDS), we moved from random thought to “project.”

The power of new media, eh?

Several false starts and bottles of Smithwick’s Irish Ale later, I think I managed to sort a year’s worth of reading into categories roughly describing where I heard of the book or what prompted me to read it or some combination thereof. Some books needed multiple designations; either I couldn’t recall specifically why I was moved to start in on them, or the relevance of secondary (and tertiary?) causes were too strong to ignore.

According to my Goodreads account, I finished 55 in the 365 days preceding my attempting to curate the list. Hence…

(Authors on) Twitter Told Me To!

  • Obedience by Will Lavender
  • Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill
  • Locke & Key (Volumes 1-3) by Joe Hill
  • How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu

11% of total (6 of the 55 books I read) with an 83% success rate (truly enjoyed 5 of the 6)

Only Obedience was a let-down here, which is also disappointing because I only heard of Lavender due to something he tweeted. I then followed him and was pretty amused by his antics. I was certain it was fated I’d adore his book. Unfortunately…let’s just say it wasn’t close.

Still, dude is pretty decent on the Twitter.

Joe Hill is a curious case for me. My wife had read Heart-Shaped Box a few years ago and insisted I put it on the pile. For whatever reason, the mood never seemed to strike. This is a bit odd because I also learned, when The Missus recommended it, that Stephen King had a son who writes and that Joe Hill was he. King having been my first true literary love going all the way back to fifth grade (1980), even now I’m a little surprised I didn’t just start reading it that night.

But, I didn’t and then continued to didn’t for a long while, even after I stumbled onto and proceeded to be amused by his Twitter feed. I even think it was Peter Straub, via his own Twitter account, who originally got me to look into Hill. This is somewhat notable because it is solely because of a tweet by Straub that led me to snag Sag Harbor from the library, introducing me to a writer who ranks among (I would not care to give an order to it) my two favorite contemporary authors and has easily one of the most fun Twitter feeds going.

And, just to be complete here, I don’t really remember who was responsible for me hearing about Charles Yu, but I do remember it being a Twitter thing.

He writes, I read

  • I’m a Stranger Here Myself: Notes on Returning to America After 20 Years Away by Bill Bryson
  • John Henry Days by Colson Whitehead
  • The Intuitionist by Colson Whitehead
  • Zone One by Colson Whitehead
  • Damned by Chuck Palahniuk
  • God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater by Kurt Vonnegut
  • Embassytown by China Miéville

13% of the list with a 71% success rate (I enjoyed 5 of the 7)

Everything here is written by someone I’ve read prior and enjoyed well enough to just assume I’d like something/anything else they have written.

When I initially created this category, it optimistically was called “He/She writes, I read,”  but upon completion, it was clear that one of those pronouns was extraneous. Please don’t tell Jennifer Weiner.

Several authors I read for the first time this year will belong to this category next time they publish something. For the purposes of this particular piece of accounting, however, they don’t get to be counted among the justifiably Whitehead-heavy (read Sag Harbor late last year and am now playing ‘catch-up’) list. My persistent paranoia about this grouping is that I keep reading new authors I like, which will end up clogging my ‘to read’ pile to the point where I don’t branch out as much to read new (to me) writers or make some small headway into older books I just have yet to read.

NPR Books Twitter and Facebook Feeds

  • The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan
  • Low Town by Daniel Polansky
  • Knockemstiff by Donald Ray Pollock
  • Red on Red by Edward Conlon
  • Blood, Bones and Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton
  • Your Wildest Dreams, Within Reason by Mike Sacks

11% of total with a 50% success rate

I was actually fairly surprised to see as many books coming from NPR’s social media feeds as there were. Though, having gone back and tried to locate the articles I believe I remembered reading, I’m not 100% on the Polansky book having come from there, but have to leave it because I cannot honestly even imagine where else I would have heard about it.

NPR seems to have been a real hit-or-miss proposition for me. The Last Werewolf, Low Town, and Knockemstiff were easily three of my favorite titles I took in the last 12 months, while Red on Red, Blood, Bones and Butter, and Your Wildest Dreams, Within Reason were some cloying combination of disappointment and annoyance.

New York Times Book Review

  • The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht
  • The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman
  • The Tower, The Zoo, and The Tortoise by Julia Stuart
  • Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin

7% of total with a 75% success rate

But, to be fair, this particular source probably feeds me more titles, by far, than any other. A friend and coworker regularly delivers to me small stacks of the New York Times Book Review from her subscription as a means of recycling and sharing. I appreciate them, Judith, only all too much. Hence, the NYT is probably also more heavily responsible for the growth of my ‘to read’ pile than anyone else, but their contributions go through a much heavier screening process than the others. I mean, even to be reviewed in those pages would have been an arduous path to take to get in front of my eyes. Then, it’s usually a well-written review with some element of the book exposed that tickles some interest of mine. It’s a lot. Hence, the real surprise isn’t that I found three of four books delightful, rather that I found the fourth to be entirely pointless. Well, that, and that despite several dozen reviews consumed, I only bothered to actually read four!

Someone Turned/Is Going to Turn It Into Something Else (with a giant marketing budget)

  • The Walking Dead, Volume 1: Days Gone By by Robert Kirkman
  • Priest: Genesis – Volumes 1-3 by Min-Woo Hyung
  • Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell
  • Repo Men by Eric Garcia
  • WAR by Sebastian Junger
  • What We Do Is Secret by Thorn Kief Hillsbery
  • The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

13% of the total with a 42% success rate

I wouldn’t have thought I was this easily influenced by the conversion of the written word into a television show or film, but the numbers don’t lie. That’s as more than any other category other than books written by people with whom I have an established and pleasant author-reader relationship.

The success rate, however, leads me to believe that maybe it’s time to bolster the filter for these books, at the very least. The two graphic novels (Walking Dead and Priest) were, at least, quick to get through. Also, I actually only got to page seven of What We Do Is Secret before realizing there was no way in hell I was going to finish it without losing my mind, as it’s written in a style reminiscent of spoken-word performance art. DEFINITELY not for me. Prefer my punk-rock histories a little more straight-forward, thank you.

To further demean using this as a reliable way to find new reads, The Art of Fielding is on here mostly on a technicality. I DID first read about it in an article about HBO having had already optioned it well before publication. The real reason I ended up reading it, however, was probably partially due to the pre-publication hype and even a little bit due to baseball being part of the subject matter, but largely because a friend/coworker (thanks Seth!) offered his copy of it after he read it. From everything I’ve heard and read about it since, I’d likely have sought it out by now, but the fact of the matter is that it was sheer opportunity, with a nudge of understated recommendation by the person lending it, who is also a fellow sports fan.

All of which is to say that the numbers here turn out to be even worse than they appear, success rate-wise, and that’s even before considering that WAR might should also not count because of the it being a documentary.

Basically, just because some folks in Hollywood like something enough to sink a lot of money into a project based on it, doesn’t necessarily mean it needs read. I hope I remember this going forward.

Okay, those are the bigger categories I managed to identify. I tried to cull a few other scattered ideas together under a cohesive thought, but they all rung somewhat false, so I’m going to stick with these as the heavy-hitters.

I may also be looking at adjusting the near future, book-wise, in consideration of these findings.

So…how do YOU find yourself being influenced in how you choose the books you read?

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